Martin Luther King Jr. on the Beloved Community: Matthew Fox

"our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class, and our nation."

Martin Luther King Jr. on the Beloved Community: Matthew Fox

September 28, 2020

The idea of the "Beloved Community" was central to the thinking of MLK jr. It appears from his earliest speeches and writings to his last ones. In an early article he wrote that the purpose of the Montgomery bus boycotts "is reconciliation…redemption, the creation of the beloved community." In 1957 he wrote that the "ultimate aim of SCLS is to foster and create the ‘beloved community’ in America where brotherhood is a reality."

In his final book he states that "our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class, and our nation." Thus, we need to expand our sense of community. He warned that desegregation by itself would only produce "a society where men are physically desegregated and spiritually segregated, where elbows are together and hearts apart."

He further states that solidarity binds the entire human family because "we are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality."

Here too we have powerful language for community — "an inescapable network of mutuality."

Isn’t this the rationale for why we wear facemasks in a time of pandemic? Because we are part of a network of mutuality? The same holds for the simple act of agreeing with one another that we will stop at red lights. A network of mutuality demands it. And, No! It is not an infringement on one’s liberty and freedom. It helps to guarantee that one lives to carry on one’s liberty, freedom and right to choose.

The same holds for choosing and creating an economic system that does not benefit the few at the expense of the poor. King became stronger and stronger near the end of his life in denouncing a version of capitalism that oppressed the poor and weak and vulnerable. That too was an offense against a beloved community.

Since his time, the tide has flooded the land with billionaires that between them hold more wealth and power and influence than all other citizens. With this influence, they see to it that legislatures grant them tax breaks that the ordinary citizen must make up for in order to sustain schools, roads, bridges, policing, interest on national loans and the rest.

This is not the way of a beloved community.

In King’s evolving understanding of a "beloved community," one senses he is applying fresh language to a vision of the kingdom of God where peace, justice and nonviolence reign; and where disagreements are settled by listening to one another deeply, not by violence.

Such a community requires inner work as well as outer work in individuals and whatever societal institutions we birth.


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